Posted January 5, 2022

Exclusive: 3 Automation Technologies You Need to Build a More Intelligent MRO Stockroom

Automated solutions in warehousing typically have the greatest return on investment for both small and large facilities.

Dealing with a labor shortage, pandemic restrictions and a shaky supply chain? Implementing automated solutions in your MRO stockrooms and tool cribs helps to reduce the effect of all three. And while adoption of automated solutions in warehousing is currently low, these solutions typically have the greatest return on investment for both small and large facilities.  

Automation in the stockroom increases productivity and accuracy, even as many manufacturers work with fewer employees.

Many different automation systems can be used in a stockroom or connex environment, from highly sophisticated robots and cobots to automated replenishment with sensor bins to storage/retrieval systems. And while all will help in automating your stockroom, here are just a few systems that will provide the most bang for your buck.

Internet of Things (IoT) Sensor Bins: Sensor bins paired with a mobile inventory management app automate the tracking and replenishment process of inventory, providing the most accurate and current information to the stockroom or connex manager and their supplier. 

IoT weight sensors are placed under bins, pallets or carts. The technology converts bin weights to quantity to allow the app to complete inventory counts multiple times a day with zero human intervention. It also triggers replenishment orders to the supplier’s ERP software. For stockrooms that carry thousands of SKUs, automated tracking and replenishment of inventory by the supplier removes the task of tracking inventory for stockroom managers. 

The app can also make it easy to manage multiple vendors. For organizations limiting visits from distributors and manufacturer reps to their facilities due to COVID-19 and security concerns or have worksites a long distance from the supplier, an IoT sensor bin inventory tracking system allows the supplier to conduct efficient off-site management of MRO and tool crib inventory.

Cobots: When thinking of cobots, most visualize the large sophisticated systems that are used on a modern automotive assembly line, which are actually industrial robots designed to do the task of an employee. Cobots, however, are designed to work alongside human employees, to lighten their load. A wide assortment of smaller, highly efficient cobot systems in the IoT logistics space are designed to take repetitive, labor-intensive and time-wasting tasks off of stockroom staff. 

Cobots are capable of learning specific tasks to assist people and can be designed to be used in the stockroom in numerous ways to improve safety and productivity, including:

  • De-palletizing - removing items from pallets in the receiving process
  • Pick and Place process – any task that requires an item to be picked up and placed elsewhere
  • Packaging – items for return or to send to another facility

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) and Automated Guided Vehicles: AMRs can understand commands and navigate through the stockroom and production floor without having an operator controlling its movement. These mobile robots come in a variety of sizes and applications and use integrated sensors to move around the plant floor. 

They can move heavy parts or equipment while maintaining the safety of personnel and the product and can be used by MRO operations managers to transport items from the stockroom to the tool crib, production floor, or work site as needed. AGVs are driverless vehicles used to move materials efficiently on a predefined path in a facility. These are used to replace manually operated material handling equipment such as forklifts, carts, lift decks and more.

These systems efficiently conduct product retrieval and storage, such as the placement of heavy pallets on tall racks, and material movement. AGVs can be used to increase efficiency, decrease damage to goods and reduce overhead by limiting the number of employees required to do the task. 

The advantages of implementing automation in your MRO stockroom include:

Increased employee safety and health – by reducing the physical workload for your employees and decreasing potential ergonomic injuries and accidents. In facilities where hazardous materials or packages are handled, moving these items can be reassigned to an automated system. Each of these systems also help to meet pandemic and/or security restrictions by increasing distance between workers and reducing exposure to outside visitors.

Increased Efficiency and Productivity – By using IoT sensors with a sophisticated inventory app from your supplier, MRO facilities can improve productivity in their operations with accurate tracking of inventory usage and automated replenishment. Cobots, AMRs and AGVs automate routine tasks, which reduces human error and allows organizations to train or redeploy their valued workers to more skilled and revenue-generating tasks.

Increased Profitability – By reducing inventory in the stockroom due to efficient tracking and replenishment with IoT sensor bins, manufacturers can increase profitability and reduce inventory carrying costs. Using Cobots, AMRs and AGVs help organizations deal with the labor shortage, reducing expenses related to recruiting, hiring, payroll, benefits, missed days, accidents and injuries.

Today, while automation in warehouses and stockrooms is low (approximately 60% of existing warehouses and stockrooms currently use no to low levels of automation), IoT technology provides increasingly accessible and affordable options for organizations looking to improve efficiency in their operations. Automation in the stockroom starts by increasing access to real-time inventory data and automated replenishment, protecting valuable workers and dealing with the increased shortage of qualified and reliable labor. In the long run, the return on investment makes an investment in these systems a no brainer. CS

Rock Rockwell is CEO of eTurns, a point of use inventory management app that automates inventory replenishment in stockroom and service trucks using phones, RFID and TrackStock SensorBins™. Contact Rockwell at